A leaked email on Friday shone a light on part of the political process usually hidden from the public: Spin and the people who manage it.
It can sometimes feel like the Government it just Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield atop a writhing horde of public servants.
After all it is Ardern and Bloomfield that the public get to see every day at the 1pm press conferences. As she replies to Instagram posts and questions from journalists alike she can appear to be her own press secretary. She has a degree in communications after all.
But like all governments there is a deep team behind Ardern helping her shape her message to the public, usually not seen by that very public. They are the ones handling those interview requests and trying to shape how we all see big events, like Thursday’s Budget. These are the people.
THE CHIEF PRESS SECRETARY: ANDREW CAMPBELL
As chief press secretary, Campbell is the most important person for setting out the prime minister’s communications with the wider public, other than herself.
He leads a team of four – about the standard size – who handle incoming questions for the prime minister, set up interviews and press conferences, and accompany her through her various media engagements, always recording every media appearance she makes, so they have their own record of it.
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Campbell also helps write speeches for the prime minister, although she is known to do plenty of editing and rewriting herself.
His team has a broader responsibility for helping shape the messaging from most of the ministers in the Beehive, who all have their own press secretaries but will defer to “PMO” (the “Prime Minister’s Office”) in most cases. This applies less for the ministers who aren’t part of the Labour Party however.
Andrew Campbell has been chief press secretary since May of 2018, when he replaced Mike Jaspers, whom Ardern had inherited from former Labour leader Andrew Little while in Opposition.
Campbell came across from the Green Party where he had held various media and strategy jobs over a number of years. He had also worked at the New Zealand Rugby Union.
It’s understood Campbell was the original author of the email which caused so many ructions over the weekend, although ministerial advisor Rob Carr appears to have been involved in sending it out.
THE DEPUTY: ELLEN READ
Ellen Read is Campbell’s deputy in the PMO’s press team. Alongside Campbell and the two others in their team she handles similar duties: media questions, interview requests, wider strategy and thousands of other tiny jobs.
Read worked in Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s office before heading upstairs to PMO. Before that, she was the Business editor at Stuff.
THEIR BOSS: RAJ NAHNA
Above the press team is Raj Nahna, Ardern’s chief of staff – although Campbell has filled in for this role before.
Nahna has more to deal with than just the media as the head of Ardern’s political office – PMO. (Ardern also can make use of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, a sprawling set of non-political bureaucrats which look after everything from civil defence to knighthoods.) But outward communication is a big part of leading a country and that means Nahna is far from above it.
Nahna took over in May of 2019, replacing Mike Moore who stepped down due to illness.
THE NUMBERS TEAM: CHRIS BRAMWELL AND ALEX TARRANT
Finance Minister Grant Robertson is Labour’s most powerful minister after Ardern, and consequently his two press secretaries have a lot of clout.
Tarrant and Bramwell are both former press gallery journalists. Tarrant came across from financial website Interest when the Government changed while Bramwell left a role as deputy political editor at RNZ when Read went upstairs to the Prime Minister’s office.
Economic messaging is a bit more complicated than most other messaging and a lot of it is intended for a more specialist audience. So plenty of Tarrant and Bramwell’s job involves setting up speeches for Robertson at various banks and making sure analysts have a reasonable idea of the Government’s fiscal intentions.
It also means helping Treasury’s communications team set up the Budget lock up, when journalists and analysts are locked in a room for several hours while the Government unveils its annual budget.
WINSTON’S TOP TEAM: JON JOHANSSON AND ALEXANDRA MASTERS
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has something of his own power structure as the head of NZ First.
This includes his top press secretary Alexandra Masters and his chief of staff Jon Johansson, who handles a lot of the inter-party negotiations and occasionally intervenes in media matters.
Johansson came to Peters after a long career as a political scientist at Victoria University, with stints teaching many press gallery journalists and some MPs.
THE GREENS: TORI WHANAU AND NADINE WALKER
The Greens also have their own mini-structure.
Chief of staff Tori Whanau handles a lot of the inter-party negotiations and occasionally is involved in a bit of hands-on media work. She has worked for the Greens in various roles in since 2015.
Nadine Walker works as the party’s communications director. She came to the Greens in 2018 from Australia, where she worked in Senator Rachel Siewert’s office.
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